Militants blew up a girl’s high school in Kabul over the weekend, killing 68 students. They were just kids — they died for the “crime” of trying to get an education.
The morning after my interpreter Janis Shinwary saved my life, I found him eating alone in our outpost’s chow hall. I sat down and asked him why he risked himself to save me? He said, “you are a guest in my country, I die before you.”
“Well, you’re a hell of a shot, I’m really glad you’re on our side. Hey, why is that, why are you on our side?”
“My mom would kick my ass if I joined the Taliban.”
It wasn’t the answer I ever expected to hear. “I don’t understand, I thought women didn’t have any power over here?”
“You know nothing of Afghans,” he said, looking down at his breakfast of na’an and yogurt.
“You’re right. I don’t. Will you teach me?”
“Ok, first lesson, Afghan men can do nothing without the blessing of their mothers.”
“So you’re telling me everyone on the other side of yesterday’s battle had their mom’s permission to be there, to be Taliban?”
“If their mom is still alive, yes,” he said as he chewed a bite of the na’an.
“What makes your mom so much more enlightened than their moms? Why does she forbid you when their moms’ allow them?”
“Because she can read and write for herself. She has read the Quran, she knows what the Taliban preach isn’t Islam, it’s bullshit.” He put the na’an down and stared into my eyes, “Why do you think the Taliban burn down and attack schools for girls? It’s because they fear moms like mine. An Afghanistan filled with moms like mine means their movement dies.”
Afghanistan is collapsing. The Taliban have begun their assault to ensure Afghanistan never becomes filled with moms like his. We have a moral obligation to save as many of our allies as we can before we leave. We cannot abandon them to be slaughtered by the Taliban. If we do so, no one will ever trust us again. We won’t have allies in future wars, and that means soldiers like me will die in greater numbers because they won’t have their Janis’ watching their back.
For those of us fighting to save these people, we thought we had at least until Sept. 11. We don’t. We may already be almost out of time.
U.S. forces may be entirely out of Afghanistan by July 4. Turkey, which for years has secured the airport in Kabul, has told the U.S. and NATO that its troops may leave as well. If Turkey also leaves, then the airport will likely close and then because there will be no way out of Kabul, the U.S. Embassy will likely shutter.
Friends of mine briefed the National Security Council last week. They walked away fearful the Biden administration was more concerned about the optics of an evacuation than doing our moral obligation. Which optics are worse: a chaotic evacuation or genocide?
In 1975, 1996, and 1999 we evacuated our Vietnamese, Kurdish, and Kosovar wartime allies, respectively, to Guam where they lived, in safety, while their permanent visa applications were processed. We should do the same now for our Afghan allies, while there’s still time.
The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly failing. An increasingly worrying body of reports makes it clear that collapse is coming and will happen faster than Washington can respond.
The Association of Wartime Allies ran the numbers on an evacuation of our Afghan wartime allies to Guam (with an assumed date of starting today):
Each passing day we do not evacuate our allies is a hindrance to our efforts to save them and a gift to the Taliban.
When asked if the military could mount an evacuation, the commander of CENTCOM said, “if directed to assist with this effort (an evacuation), we could certainly do it.” Military commanders do not say they can do something unless they know they have a plan. We need President Biden to give the order — execute the plan, evacuate our Afghan wartime allies to Guam.
We can save these people. We just need the courage and conviction to do the right thing.
Matt Zeller is a U.S. Army veteran. He is also co-founder of No One Left Behind, a Truman National Security Project Fellow, and an adjunct fellow at the American Security Project. He is the author of “Watches Without Time” (Just World Books, 2012), which chronicles his experience serving as an embedded combat adviser with the Afghan security forces in Ghazni, Afghanistan, in 2008.